As I sit on my couch in Madisonville Louisiana, the time I spent in Utah almost seems like a dream that didn’t actually happen. The peace that comes with having no cell phone is gone.
I work in a fast-paced environment. My phone starts ringing at about seven thirty AM and the calls and texts don’t subside, sometimes, until after nine PM. Mortgage sales has been my life for the last twenty-three years, and my phone has been on my ear ever since. A commission only pay structure, and a culture that pushes you to produce continuous results can lead to a lot of stress. The outdoors, and hunting is my escape.
My wife has watched me stress more over hunting than work. Sometimes I wonder which is more stressful, but in recent years, I’ve taken a different approach. I honestly think that having some success lends itself to a calm that takes away a lot of the stress of wanting to be successful, and in turn creates success in hunting. I know that some folks will say, and I actually agree, that the hunt itself is what it’s all about, and the kill is not so important, but we also know that this is the end goal and the way success can be measured. That doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate the time in the woods or with friends and family, but the work and time we put into this sport is because we want the result of a kill.
With all of this said, I’ll get back to me sitting on my couch. I’ve spent a good amount of time since coming back from a trip to Utah to chase elk with my bow, thinking about the hunt. I was lucky enough to take a bull on this trip. Prior to heading out, I sat in on a Louisiana Bowhunter Podcast as a guest, and a question I was asked has been on my mind quite a bit since. Locke Wheeler basically asked, “If you are successful on this hunt, do you think it will quench your thirst for this type of adventure? Or, do you think it will make you want to do it more?”
At the time, I answered the question the best I could without certainty because I had been trying to achieve this for a few years and didn’t have the experience of success. Shortly after, and leading up to me leaving for this trip, that question was on my mind. I had a lot of time to think about it while driving from Louisiana, through Kansas and then onto Utah. I had a lot of time to think about it on the six hour horse ride into camp. I had a lot of time to think about it the first night in camp while laying in my tent trying to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.
This trip is what I look forward to all year. The one week where there are no cell phones, no realtors that I have to worry about whether or not I’ve done a good enough job for, that they are going to send me their next client, no borrowers that I have to worry about referring their family friends and co workers. That worry is there for a reason. After all, if I don’t provide a referable experience, I can’t put food on the table for my kids. But for this one week, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist. There is nothing I can do, other than concentrate on the hunt. But laying in my tent that first night with a little bit of worry about what’s going on at home and a little bit of worry about what was going to happen over the next seven days, I found the answer to Locke’s question.
The morning of September 8th, after a long night in the tent, my good friend Rusty
Farnsworth, who is an outfitter in Utah, along with another very close friend, Andrew Harkins, who is a branch manager for the same company that I work for, but in Pennsylvania, and I woke up at 5am. As I opened my eyes staring at the roof of our two person Kodiak Canvas Tent, I realized, this hunt was on. Andrew was just getting up from his cot that was just a few feet from mine. We’re close enough friends that we can give each other shit, and often do. Andrew is a big guy. Probably around six feet tall and about two hundred and fifty pounds, and he’s probably the noisiest
person to ever roll over in a tent. Grunting, sniffing and eventually cursing like I’ve come to expect from the folks I know from Pennsylvania. We put on our elk hunting gear for the day, put together our day packs and headed to the main tent for coffee. Rusty had been up for some time getting coffee going, getting a plan together for the other guides in camp, tending to the horses and getting himself ready for the day.
In years past, we have gone through this same routine, and this morning was no different. Rusty rolls in as we’re taking the last sip of our coffee and asks if we are ready to go. We headed down a horse trail on our way to a couple of wallows that were about two miles from camp. Rusty had some experience with some hunters he brought into his drainage last year, and was pretty excited about the possibilities these wallows might bring. As we headed down the horse trail on foot, it wasn’t long before we heard our first bugle. To my surprise, as I stopped in excitement to make sure Rusty and Andrew heard what I heard, I looked up and Rusty didn’t even raise his head. He just kept walking. I felt the need to ask if he had heard that bugle. His response was “Yeah, it’s another hunter.” Before long, we ran across two local hunters that had ridden horses back, and were hunting the same area. We talked for a few minutes before continuing on our way toward the wallows. After a mile or so, we reached a large bowl from above. The terrain was similar to previous years on this hunt, but the vegetation was much different as the majority of this area had recently burned. As we came to the edge of this bowl, looking down a few hundred feet to the bottom, I thought to myself, as I often do when looking as something really cool in nature, there is no answer to how this world was created, other than God.
We took a seat at the edge and started to glass down into his bowl. Rusty looked to Andrew and I and pointed across to the other side and as he had spotted two bulls feeding up the side of the bowl toward the area that we were headed. Although Rusty is a very seasoned hunter and a great guide, he always gives you what he’s thinking and then asks for your opinion. This morning was no different. As he walked over to Andrew and I, he said, “We can make our way around the edge of this bowl and see if we can cut them off as they work from feeding to their bed, but we need to hurry and get over there, then work through the timber really slow and quite. What do y’all think?” For us, it was game on.
We did just that, we rushed over to get closer to the area, then started working down the edge of this bowl slowly, listening and glassing through the timber from time to time. Keep in mind that we had to cross a good amount of country to get to the area, and because of that, it looked like may have missed them. We decided to just get to the wallows and sit. As we made out way through the timber we heard another bugle from where we had just come from. We were pretty certain it was the other hunters. As we sat and discussed it, Rusty noticed movement off to my right. As he looked over, he held his hand out for us to be still. It turned out that why we were concentrating and quietly discussing the bugle from behind us, a nice five by five bull had spotted our movement through the timber. It sat perfectly still looking in our direction before getting nervous and deciding to move on quickly. We had just had out first encounter with a bull, and we bumped him.
That feeling can be defeating, but we continued on to the wallow. As we approached the wallow, I could see that it was a long peanut shaped meadow that sloped downward through the timber. On one side of the meadow was a large wallow, with another smaller wallow sitting about thirty yards away. At the other end was another set of wallows about one hundred yards from the first. If you’ve never seen an elk wallow, they are usually found where some sort of small water source has softened the ground. The massive bulls along with the cows will urinate, roll around and thrash at the ground creating a large mud hole. We could tell that these wallows were active. Wet mud from the night before was slung all around the edges as the bulls fought with an imaginary rival made of muddy piss water. I found myself pretty excited about the possibilities this area could bring.
Rusty had me sit at that wallow, tucked in a ground blind he had packed in a few weeks before. He then took Andrew down to a second ground blind at the lower wallow one hundred or so yards away. As I sat getting my chair situated and rolling through a couple practice draws in the blind to make sure everything was comfortable in the case that I had an opportunity to draw on a bull, rusty popped back into he blind and took a seat. As we waited, we reminisced about hunts in the years past, as this was the third year I hunted with Rusty. We talked about the three hundred plus inch bull I shot in no man’s land, the bull Andrew killed his first year, and the bull Andrew didn’t recover the second year. We also talked about my good buddy Car Lynn Perez and how on the first year, he almost fought one of the other hunters in camp, when Locke and Collins were involved in a horse crash the year before in the middle of the night at ten thousand feet, and the mule that had fallen off a one hundred foot cliff into a lake the day before on the pack in.
As we sat and talked about all of this, movement caught out eye on the other side of the wallow. A cow elk trotted across as if something had spooked it. It was about eighty yards away as it stopped, looked around and quickly made its way into the timber. We then heard a half ass bugle down on the other side of the meadow, and came to the conclusion that the other hunters in the area were responsible for that bugle and had bumped the cow. As we discussed this, I pulled up the cover to the window behind me to see that other cows were making their way into he meadow between andrew and I. As I turned to tell Rusty what I was seeing, I could see that he was looking at something out of the side of our shooting
window, and shortly after, the words I wanted to hear came out of his mouth. “Bull, get your bow and get ready.” I leaned to my left to get a view of what he was seeing out of the corner of our shooting window, and that’s when I saw a bull making his way to the wallow. There was a tree blocking any shot at that point as he had not made his way in front of us yet. The bull stopped, just out of my shooting lane and started to thrash he water just below the wallow. Rusty told me to draw my bow. I came to full draw, waiting for the bull to continue into my shooting lane. After a minute or so, I let down, as I wasn’t sure how long he would take. Well, it was only a few seconds before he continued toward the wallow. I drew my bow again as he made to the wallow, put my pin on him, and hit my release.
The sound of my Vertix releasing my arrow, a loud crack, and the bulls back legs gave out as he dropped into the wallow. He spun around trying to get up, but only his front legs worked. As he stood on the berm in front of the wallow, I had released just as he dropped his front legs down into he wallow. My arrow hit mid body puncturing one of his lungs, but at an upward angle and into his spine. He was paralyzed and lost the use of his back legs. After thrashing and trying to stand
up for what seemed like forever, I nocked another arrow and shot again. I was so shaken that I actually hit the top of the berm in front of the wallow on the second arrow. I knocked another, but this time waited for him to rise up again to show his vitals. I let that arrow go and was sure that he would die quickly as my arrow hit what looked to be through both lungs. The bull continued to thrash around, so I decided to get out of the blind, walk over to him and give him one more.
As Rusty and I stood there watching him take his final breath, Rusty turned to me and said, “It’s been a long time coming.” Honestly, it was a little bitter sweet as an elk hunter. It was done, on day one, and any pressure to find and kill a bull elk was gone. But, my hunt was done. I’d still spend the next six days in the back country trying to help locate a goat for a goat hunter in camp, I’d still get to be involved in
Andrew’s hunt, but my elk hunt was over. Earlier I wrote that I had found the answer to Locke’s question during that podcast. This just solidified that. The answer is that I don’t think that killing a bull will ever quench the thirst for the hard work, time with friends, and anticipation a hunt like this brings. We set goals constantly at work. We achieve them, but, in the words of a mentor of mine, it’s not a lifetime achievement award. The goal isn’t really the reason. The goal is the end result of the work, but it’s not the reason that we do what we do. That bull was my goal. I achieved that. But the hunt, the adventure, going through all of it with close friends, the things that can and do go wrong, the failure and the feeling of success. Those are the reasons I do this. Those are the reasons that you will find me in the elk woods every year until my body will no longer allow me to do it. I’ll be in there with Andrew, I’ll be in there with Rusty, and hopefully will build relationships with many more along the way. What an awesome experience, and what a blessing to be able to pick up this bow and go to work.
Special thank you to Rusty Farnsworth with Farnsworth Outfitting, to my wife that allows me to do this and my kids who still love me when I get home. Thank you to all my hunting buddies in the whitetail and elk woods. And a special thank you to Louisiana Bowhunter and SKRE GEAR for the support. Let’s make this a fantastic season.